Courage: the Heart of Leadership

To effectively lead through challenging and difficult times, having courage is necessary; especially when leaders must inspire themselves and others toward a courageous action. Courageous leadership may take place in various forms and requires an individual to move outside of their comfort level. For example, situations requiring one to be courageous may encompass making hard decisions, speaking and hearing the truth when an assignment is at risk, stretching oneself to do things we have never dreamed possible and moving ahead even though we are not completely sure of the consequences.

Webster’s dictionary defines courage as “the state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger, fear, or vicissitudes with self-possession, confidence, and resolution; bravery.” The word courage comes from the French word for heart which is Coeur.

Leaders who are courageous encompass the following characteristics:

  • They’re risk-takers. Taking risks propels growth. Leo Buscaglia author of the poem “Risks” writes, “The person, who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow or love. Chained by his certitude, he is a slave; he has forfeited his freedom. Only the person who risks is truly free.”
  • They’re decisive. A leader who is decisive exudes confidence and drives a positive aura — which people gravitate to — making the task at hand easier to accomplish.
  • They’re willing to change. Authors of “The Heart of Change” posit that leaders either accept change or resist it; change is a five letter word that moves us forward or holds us back.
  • They’re gamblers who trust their initial instincts and follow them. The better the leader’s instincts are, the less gambling is involved. Trusting one’s instincts is an effective leadership tool only if the leader has good instincts. Without a successful track record of exhibiting good instincts, it’s difficult to have the confidence to follow your instincts.

Many leaders have shown courageous leadership through their actions, such as:

  • Bill Gates left Harvard to create Microsoft in 1975.
  • Vince Lombardi, Pat Summit and Eddie Robinson led great sports teams to victory.
  • Fred Smith, former U.S. Marine, built Federal Express even though his Harvard professor criticized his entrepreneurial idea.
  • George Washington and Golda Meier created nations.
  • Napoleon and Joan of Arc led conquering armies.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi advocated peace against political and social odds, knowing that their lives might be the price of their advocacy.

Whatever your title or position is, being a courageous leader is a tremendous asset. Leaders in our industry face constant challenges. Those who are courageous are able to step up to the latest political or funding dilemma while facing the organization’s challenges more effectively than those who are less confident when staring at a crisis. Moving forward in the mass transit industry requires team work and a buy-in from stakeholders, including employees.

People inherently want to associate with a winning concept or team and the ability of a leader to foster a level of full stakeholder buy-in is paramount to the success of any organization. Leaders who exude confidence and courage find this task less daunting.

Being a courageous leader requires an individual to be honest with themselves and to know how to balance the toughening-up and asking for help when the situation warrants it. On a daily basis we encounter circumstances new to us and could be fear-provoking, but we move forward and overcome those challenges. In the end we become stronger and more confident.

I once heard someone say life begins at the edge of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to push yourself past your comfort zone. You will never know what is on the other side, or you may wonder “What if?” Brian Tracy, author of “The Power of Self-Discipline,” said, “Don’t wait until you feel confident; do the thing you fear. The courage comes afterwards.” MT

Dr. Liliane M. Finke, Ed.D., is the marketing and communications manager at Palm Tran, Palm Beach County, Fla. and a certified executive coach .